The Recorder – Turners Falls designer Richie Richardson creates “clothes that make a person look really fabulous”
TURNERS FALLS – When it comes to high fashion in Franklin County, FAB’s Richie Richardson is unique.
The Trinidad-born haute couture designer can be found in a modest-sized boutique on 2nd Street, but don’t be fooled by the size of the boutique – Richardson is no stranger to the brightest lights on the runway. After taking part in the family business and starting his own business in Trinidad, Richardson moved to New York to pursue his career alongside some of the biggest names in fashion. It then bounced back and forth between New York and Brattleboro, Vermont, before bringing its iconic âethnic chicâ aesthetic to Turners Falls.
In his adult life, Richardson identifies himself above all as a “New Yorker of the Caribbean”. Before being New Yorker, Richardson was a child from Trinidad. Richardson said that at only 4 years old, however, he knew not only that his calling was fashion, but that he would be the best at it. He attributes his Trinidadian education to its creative fabric, describing the community as a âtribe of creatorsâ.
âThey were the type who were very involved in spirituality, the celebration of music and the cultural arts,â said Richardson. âThere is an identity to who we are. So wherever we are, we proudly wear our identity … For me to talk about myself, I couldn’t be here without it.
Richardson began his foray into fashion as a sign maker and screen printer for carnival bands, which his father had done by trade.
âIt laid the groundwork for me to recognize this is my calling,â said Richardson. âThere is something comfortable, very attractive and natural about it. “
At 25, Richardson began working in graphic arts, signage and screen printing alongside his four siblings. During this period of his adulthood, he trained as a tailor and studied alongside Carlisle Chang, a pioneer of international masquerade costume exhibitions, in his carnival style. Chang innovated the idea of ââputting costumes in a gallery next to information that explained art to people. This sparked Richardson’s investment in the bold haute couture aesthetic.
âCarlisle taught me that carnival can be run 24/7, 365 days a year,â he said.
Along with a team of other established designers, Richardson designed his own collection and hosted a fashion show. According to Richardson, by the time it ended, the entire collection had sold out. It was not long after that that he felt the need to go further.
âThere are only limits where you can go on an island,â said Richardson.
Richardson moved to New York in 1990. Although he said the move was a way to âstart from scratch,â he described the transition as an âeasy entryâ into a culture he felt familiar with. He said he not only felt that Trinidad’s cultural and industrial diversity prepared him for life in New York City, but that he had been to the city several times before, even after taking a photoshoot with Class Magazine.
Shortly after settling in, Richardson began working for Jamaican-American artist Victor Bloise, whose credits include designing official touring products for Jamaican ballroom legend Shabba Ranks. Under Bloise, Richardson flourished, designing and screen printing until Bloise could no longer afford Richardson’s services. Instead of continuing to employ it, Bloise gave Richardson all the clients he had ever designed for, including people like Sunny Jung, who Richardson said was the greatest designer and producer of ethnic t-shirts. in the world.
New York had everything Richardson thought he needed until he started dating someone online and fell in love. He traveled to Brattleboro, Vt., To meet the woman he was dating and the two took a “gallery walk.” The magic of the city sparked a visceral response from Richardson.
“What am I really doing in New York?” He wondered.
Richardson moved to Brattleboro in 2009 to adjust to a relationship that would prove to be short-lived. In 2012, after unsuccessful attempts to make himself comfortable both romantically and artistically in the city, Richardson met another woman who introduced him to Turners Falls. There, he met Rodney Madison, a black shop owner and âstuff collectorâ whose gallery and character immediately resonated with Richardson.
âHe had a personality that attracted people to him,â he said.
Richardson began his fashion efforts in Turners Falls designing Madison’s storefronts with T-shirts. During the process, he felt comfortable and appreciated the âconnection and community spiritâ that he had not found in Brattleboro. Then, in 2015, Richardson planned to organize a pop-up store with Black History Month in mind. He brought in artists from New York and Turners Falls to host parties and establish his presence. A few weeks after the start of the new year, Richardson wrapped up the pop-up, encouraged by its sales and general reception.
“Okay, this sleepy town has something,” Richardson recalls, thinking.
In 2017, Richardson decided he needed a space to “permanently build from” and opened Richie Richardson FAB. He sets out to make the store a space that would empower âethnicâ designers and celebrate their creativity.
âMuch of the fashion world is ethnic and doesn’t get any recognition for what we do,â he said before presenting Turners Falls as a great place to recognize ethnic designers. âThe reason New England worked for us is that there aren’t a lot of black or ethnic designers in New England. “
Today, Richardson continues to enjoy the “cottage and home based economy” that New England has to offer as he grows his presence. He has hosted two fashion shows at FAB so far, with an invitation-only show and sell with never-before-seen pieces taking place at the boutique on November 18 from 7 to 9 pm. When not in charge of the trail, Richardson aims to continue learning about the local community, as well as his own craft.
âI was trying to figure out how to make a differenceâ¦ We are always learning more about the community, and I hope the community continues to learn more about us,â he said. âI trust the public because the public, more than anyone, tells us where we’re goingâ¦ I’m really interested in making clothes that make a person truly fabulous. “
Contact Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or firstname.lastname@example.org.